9 Jul 2013

Fuchsia - Tony Durant Interview

Following on from last week's review of the new Fuchsia album (their first in 41 years, read the review and stream the album here), I had a chat with Fuchsia mastermind Tony Durant, now based in Sydney about the past, the present and the future.

The original Fuchsia LP was released back in 1972. How did you feel about it at the time and looking back how do you feel about it now?

I think Fuchsia came out of the experimental stuff I had been doing with Louise, a very uncompromising Psych band in the late 60’s. I left the band (we remained/remain good friends) and went to University (Exeter) to have a break from music…It didn’t last . Louise were quite Gothic in some respects…my songs had titles like Rue Morgue and Asgard, which in retrospect is quite Spinal Tap ! University opened me to a whole new world of music and other influences. I started writing again, and found a couple of like minded lads in Greg (Mike Gregory) and Mick Day, and the original songs for Fuchsia were quite hard edged in a way ( Like Ring of Red Roses demo on the Mahagonny album) The original idea was to add string players and have, as it were, two bands, augmenting half the performance with strings.

I think youthful arrogance took over then. I determined to write stuff that had not been written before. Anything ‘familiar’ I would throw out. Naturally there were cadences which might have rung a few bells with some people, but generally speaking a big part of the structures/chords were fairly unusual. I’d use dischords , or would make up the chords sometimes. Take ‘The Nothing Song’, for example. We play that live now, and people are very amused by my opening dialogue, where I describe the song as being ‘very difficult’ and suggest if there are any Music Students in the room perhaps they can help! Difficult, not so much for us playing, but for the audience.This always gets a laugh . Normal song formats might go A, A, B, A, A, B, bridge/solo, A, B ,B , . end (A =verse, B=Chorus) Nothing Song follows more A, B, C, A, B, D, E, F, A, B , D, E, F, SOLO, A, B,C F, G, etc …!! !!! People maybe did struggle, and yet, people now really love that song. Have audiences progressed I wonder ?

I am not trained as a musician. I wrote all the string parts on a half track (single track) tape machine, listening to each part against the guitar chords. Maybe that’s why it sounds a bit unusual/odd. I remember well the feeling of sitting down with the string players (Maddy, Vanessa and Janet) and playing Gone with the Mouse or Nothing Song for the first time…sheer elation. A real buzz.

It was a very exciting moment to get the recording contract with Kingdom/Chrysalis. I thought I’s finally arrived and that the big time was upon me. We had been into a recording studio for a day, and had one gigs playing experience. Consequently the album was not easy to create. It was like walking along a musical tightrope, and only just staying on. We were at the limit of our abilities, and there were some scary moments when we nearly fell off ! But we got there. Then it all went pear shaped. The record company didn’t know what to do with it, ( where and in what genre could it belong? ) and after 6 months of tours promised then falling through, enough was enough.

When something ‘fails’ I think we tend to post mortem; look at the flaws and learn from it. I have said to people that as an artist you create, then you hack and chip at what you have done in the effort to better it. Sometimes you can lose sight of what’s good and what you were trying to achieve in the first place. Standing up too close. I think in seeking an explanation as to why this had not worked market wise , I lost sight of everything that was good about the record, and only saw what was bad. I moved on with my music career, and it was forgotten.  Certainly there was no regret or sense of bitterness about the project. I merely went on with my musical and family life, and couldn’t imagine all the wonderful adventures that lay ahead which continue to enrich and excite. How lucky am I?

In the intervening years I have learnt a lot, probably how to live better with my creativity and myself , which we all do as we grow older. When I became aware the album had become this cult item, I was absolutely stunned. …it was beyond belief. That this little record had gone off on it’s own, making its own way in life, finding new friends , who I realize hold it very dear. And people were saying such nice things! I owe all this to Gianpaolo Binelli (Nightwings) who found me here in Australia and told me the news. I was able to go back and re master/remedy a few minor problems, but very carefully and subtley. ( I hate old albums that have been really messed with. Like re painting an old master…well, rather a minor master!) I have learnt to develop something of an immunity to it’s flaws, and see something of the beauty that is there. It is part of an era; an innocence is there not often seen today. I play a few of the songs, but actually performing them now for the first time, as we only ever played ‘live’ once. Yes, people out there, and my friends in the band, seem to love these strange old songs.

I feel that the rediscovery and re-release of this old record has opened the door to me writing music again, and actually playing it ‘live’, which was a major step for me.

2005 saw the release of "Fuchsia, Mahagonny & Other Gems" a collection early demos, plus tracks from a mid seventies theatrical project. Were there any plans (or hopes) for a second "proper" Fuchsia at the time these were recorded? 

No ! I just thought I wanted to get this music out there, and maybe someone could listen to it, and enjoy it. (I have a great fondness for the Mahagonny songs. ) However, I did start to write again. Very slowly and hesitantly. Colin and Cam Cairnes, Melbourne film makers, found the Fuchsia album in Melbourne, loved it, and decided to do a doco on the story. They did a very nice job, coming up here and cementing a lasting friendship. They were very encouraging about early versions of new songs as they evolved.

Fast-forward to 2013, and 41 years after the original album you've released "Fuchsia 2 From Psychedelia to a Distant Place." It's a long time between albums. Why now? What led up to "Fuchsia 2'? 

Fuchsia 1 was really an unfinished project. A few commentators said what a pity it was, having heard where the band was going with the later demos on the Mahagonny/Gems album, that the music never grew to maturity. John O’Regan, a well respected UK journalist wrote a fabulous article for Mojo magazine ( “Burried Treasure”) on the first album when it was re-released. I found even more encouragement here to continue.

The song writing continued, and I became more attached to the process down in my little studio, as the songs continued to evolve.

For me songs don’t start with “hey, I have this idea for a song about ‘x’ or ‘y’.” For me it starts with a chord sequence, musical phrases, nonsense lyrics, not really about anything but scanning well. It seems with me the lyric ideas actually seem to form from somewhere back in the sub conscious, and emerge without you controlling what’s going on. Then the conscious mind starts to come in and they develop. So the songs seem to develop from out of an emotion/mood that is in the music. The conscious mind makes sense of and develops the idea that the subconscious mind puts up. The songs have quite a depth to them, I think. There’s a lot going on, hopefully without being pretentious.

In terms of the evolution of the Fuchsia II album, having recorded a few roughs, I thought to put out a little EP; drum machine, synth strings all that sort of thing. The idea of ever fronting a band ???.What ?? ..come on !! Never in a million years did I think in a year or so I’d be doing that. It’s amazing what people around you can help you achieve. I tried real strings and it sounded great. I’d stop music teachers in the street outside my house, loading violins or cellos into cars, and ask them if they were interested ! My talented cousin Arun Luthra in New York helped me write out a few parts for string players to read. Just like back in the early 70’s, it sounded great ! Then I thought, why not real drums? I’d done it before with jingles I’d recorded and it worked. So Lloyd came in, and a good friend helped with more studio time. I was encouraged greatly to turn up the vocals, as I still had problems listening to myself. A good remix and mastering at Don Bartley’s studio, and there was an album I felt very proud of.

So it’s been a long evolution, as the songs themselves grew from scraps, and every stage built on the former, as I slowly started to see the qualities emerging at each stage of the process.

You've come a long way musically since 1972. How do you see "Fuchsia 2" in relation to the original Fuchsia LP? 

It is definitely a progression. From the unfinished business of the first album…..The new album is probably not as experimental. It is I’m sure more accessible, with song ideas being more real/current/tangible; less whimsical. It would have to be less experimental, when so much has happened in music in the 40 years since Fuchsia’s first incarnation.
I have done a lot of musical things in the intervening years. I learned a huge amount about vocals and backing vocals in record production, jingle/film music creation. I play a little better now! I have a far greater understanding of how the different instruments can work together. Consequently Fuchsia II is to my mind a better album than the first, in terms of what it achieves musically and song wise. However, as one critic pointed out, it may be not as adventurous, but hell, I was 20 then !!

"Fuchsia 2" has been receiving overwhelmingly positive reviews. How do you feel about it? Do you feel like the critics are getting what you're trying to do? 

The reviews have been so amazing . I just want to keep re-reading them!! To have people who listen to so much music come down so strongly in the new album’s favour is so gratifying. They really get it . They understand the songs. This could have been a disaster… “Man’s follow up of cult classic 40 years on…Should have quit while on top”, I can see it now ! Wow, one guy described the album as a work of art. Thanks buddy! Fuchsia 1 we got one review only in Melody Maker..a good one ,but saying how much they looked forward to the follow up to see where this band would go. Hell, it sure was a long trime coming !… I wonder if the reviewer who wrote that in 1971, Chris Welch, is still alive ?

Can you tell us a little about the lineage of these songs? Have you been carrying them around for years, or are they relatively new? 

I described earlier how the songs seem to evolve from music /chord sequences, melodies, nonsense lyric ideas/scanning, coming from the subconscious ( like abstract painting slowly taking on form) then the conscious mind takes over the lyrics and gets busy directing and developing them into a coherent idea. The songs came from strange places. For example, the string motif for Melancholy Road was from a piece of film music I wrote for a lad mowing a lawn on a hot day! It sounded so…’melancholy’, and fitted in well with the idea for the song. ‘I’ll Remember her Face‘ was recorded for a film years ago, and for the movie only required 2 verses. (John Tams sang it, the Warhorse songwriter and Albion Band legend) I finally finished a middle section and a last verse recently. Rainbow Song, as its now called, is a very a revamped oldie. The rest are new, all written within the last 4 years.

Piper at the Gates , like Gone with the mouse on the first album is a song about the decline of civilisations. (Now that is a broad and adventurous topic for a pop song!) There’s this darkness in the music…and the song: snapshots of the blindness in living within a failing civilization .

The original Fuchsia LP has amassed a legion of die hard fans since it's original release in 1972. One of these fans - David Svedmyr even named his band (Me & My Kites) after one of your songs. You've collaborated on a song with Me & My Kites for a forthcoming Fruits de Mer 7". Tell us a little about this. 

So many people have contacted me over the years, telling me of how Fuchsia 1 came into their lives. Very touching stories. David contacted me from Sweden, saying an older musical colleague had passed the link on to him. He and many of his friends been in love with the album for a few years! He said he was going to record ‘The band’, an old demo of mine. He then got me to sing on it. They have done their version of it, but still quite like the original. He’s invited me over next year to tour Fuchsia II, with them supporting. It could be amazing. They are lovely people, and so late 60’s … I mean that in the nicest way! The reborn Woodstock generation. They have their own album, which is a very unusual record well into the psych genre. They love that period. I have seen these guys doing cover versions of early Pink Floyd stuff, perfectly.

You're based in Australia now, and you're playing the new album live there. Is your live band the same band who worked on the album with you? And any plans to tour outside of Australia? 

The live band has only Lloyd Ghi ( drums) who played on the album. The album was recorded here in my little studio in Sydney. (apart from drums) I did all guitars/percussion. String players came and went, reading the mainly illegible charts I provided ( I am getting better now courtesy of the Sibelius programme !) 2 of the guys are old friends from Perth days, who love to play, and have been great in their support of the project. We have been doing a few gigs, but despite the amazing reviews, it’s a hard process. We need a good publicist which I am working on.
Touring outside Australia? Yes please! Hopefully with Me and My Kites , starting in Sweden next year.

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